Riot or Revolution? (2005 civil unrest and rioting in France) [ 11/04/2007 ]

[ 11/04/2007 ]

Some commentators regard the events of 2005 as mere crimes; others see them as a social movement, even a political mobilisation or popular uprising. These two analyses set crime against political struggle, yet such antagonistic views cannot fully interpret the events, as the situation is more complex. Simply setting crime against political movements cannot be justified: crimes can be committed for political reasons. However, when a violent movement is described as political, then it must justify this description. Having a political impact is not enough to make a movement political in essence. A force of nature may have political consequences, but it is not itself political.

There has been a great deal of discussion and confusion surrounding the riots of 2005. In order to gain a clearer insight into these events, it would be useful to examine the terminology used to describe them, in both the English- and French-speaking worlds. Similar events are referred to as riots in the English-speaking world. The word comes directly from the old French riote, meaning quarrel. A riot can be defined as a tumultuous disruption of public law and order by three or more people, acting together with a common interest. It is therefore a collective action, although the group may be small, and there is also a hazardous connotation to it. However, two other expressions can be used to describe this type of urban violence or rioting, namely civil unrest and urban unrest. Unrest falls within the realm of agitation, uprising and confrontation, while civil is the opposite of military and urban is the opposite of rural. (the rest of the document can be downloaded under the name RiotorRevolution on this blog).

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